I enjoyed Michael Blanding’s article on discoveries about Shakespeare’s sources (“Neither a Borrower Nor a Lender … ,” March 21). My problem is with the headline, which implies that there might have been anything wrong with Shakespeare’s borrowing. All Shakespeare scholars have always known that he never invented a plot in his life; none of his contemporaries expected him to. Our modern ideas about plagiarism, and our expectation that what an author presents should be entirely, or at least substantially, original is just that: Modern. In Medieval and Renaissance times, complete originality would have been highly suspect. Authors were expected to choose from stories already known, and retell them in their own way. Shakespeare was adhering to the literary expectations of his day in taking plots and suggestions of imagery from sources, and recasting them in his own distinct style — which no one in 400 years has surpassed. That’s genius and honor enough.
Louise R. Quigley
Blanding’s article about Dennis McCarthy’s rogue academic breakthrough was captivating. The story of McCarthy’s research journey contrasted with his personal life would make an exceptional movie.
There is so much to enjoy in this — the story of McCarthy alone is worthy of an article. And, I get to read about someone searching for the source of inspiration for Shakespeare’s stories. And finally, a book recommendation is provided.
Matt Chase’s illustrations for the cover and article are stunningly wonderful. The cover’s fine detail and carefully employed light make it look just like a painting from that era. Ditto for the details of the inner piece, and the imaginative structure. Thanks to the Globe Magazine for supporting excellent graphic and photographic work.
The article on McCarthy’s discovery of Shakespeare’s debt to Thomas North and George North offers new insight on playwriting during the Elizabethan era. And, it suggests that most — if not all — of the plays we know as “Shakespeare’s,” which began to appear in print in 1594, were originally written far earlier. Perhaps, as McCarthy believes, they were written by Thomas North. Perhaps they were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, who was hailed as a skilled playwright during his lifetime and who would likely have known both Norths. Blanding shows that important contributions to scholarship can be made by “outsiders” such as McCarthy.
The “mystery” of Shakespeare never ceases to provide interesting variations. However, it seems the many well-known writers and critics who credit Edward de Vere for authoring the Bard’s plays got it right. Hamlet, as with many of the plays, follows aspects of de Vere’s life in and out of the court of Elizabeth I quite closely. As a highly educated man, de Vere would have been aware of all the plays and literature of the time. It is fascinating that Shakespeare will probably go on forever as a source of mystery, research, and new revelations. We should just remember that this is the case because the plays are as incredible in today’s world as they were when written. If they were not so remarkable we would hardly be so taken with questions of authorship.
Scholars who have devoted themselves to determining the identity of the individual(s) who wrote the plays are not “conspiracy theorists” — their work is painstaking. Shakespeare’s identity remains a central question; to ignore it reduces the extraordinary meaning of his corpus. The Globe theater in London is to be commended for acknowledging that his identity is far from solved. David P. Gontar’s Hamlet Made Simple is one of several arguments for Shakespeare’s own crisis of legitimacy and strikes at the heart of the authorship problem. The Shakespeare Guide to Italy by Richard Roe is another book that carefully considers his knowledge of Italy. McCarthy’s good work, curiosity, and persistence benefit from sophisticated computer analyses. His discovery points to Shakespeare’s own literary immersion — and, importantly, away from an outmoded myth.
Kudos to McCarthy and his curious mind. His research makes clear that nothing ever written is truly original. Thanks for bringing McCarthy and his nontraditional path of self-education to light.
Wendy Pannebaker Matthews
Joanna Weiss asks when to end an Instagram diary (“I’m Keeping an Instagram Pandemic Diary. When Should I Stop?” March 21). For me, the answer is: Don’t end it. My Facebook pandemic photo diary has been eye-opening. I photographed the plants, trees, and flowers I saw on my daily walks, then did Internet research to write captions. Before this year, I never noticed the colorful winter blooms of Erica carnea (winter heath) and witch hazel, the beauty of dawn redwood trees, and so much more — all within walking distance of my home.
I, too, posted a picture every day on my Facebook page starting March 16, 2020, when my two adult daughters arrived home from New York City. I stopped posting on March 16, 2021, with the very first picture I posted. The whole process has been cathartic for me and, from what others have posted, for them as well. As more people that I knew received the vaccine, I started to feel that I could step back. With everything there needs to be an end point — this was mine.
Donna Di Lillo